Reading My Way Around the World

Monday 19 December 2016

Tis Winter Now

Although the temperature has gone up a bit again, and there is no real sign of snow yet, we are having the most beautiful Winter sunsets, all quite fitting to go along with a long bout of flu and a delay in all my Christmas preparations.  Hence my absence from reading and commenting on blogs over the past while.  For ages I"ve been longing to have a day in bed to catch up on reading - be careful what you wish for - I had 8 days in bed and wasn't fit to read a thing.  And still feeling very precarious.   However, there's been lots going on around here, and now that I've finally got the Christmas tree up , I feel a bit more festive.  Time to bring in more greenery over the next few days. 

Around Here - the Holm Oak

I write often about stuff going on in the village here - and our latest escapade has been the Tree of the Year Competition.   Remember I asked you to vote for our Holm Oak a few months back?  Well on Channel 4 on Saturday night, it won the Northern Ireland heat - and now goes forward to the European Tree of the Year competition ... so I'll be back looking for more votes :)
Our Holm Oak won the Northern Ireland Tree of the Year on Saturday night.
Photo Courtesy of Light 2000 Community Group

The First Christmas Card

Amy from Love Made My Home organised a Christmas card swap back in November and I was delighted to be paired up with Tracy from Sunny Corner Farm. And this lovely card arrived in right at the start of month bring some sunshine into proceedings.  I love receiving mail from around the world and still send lots of Christmas cards, so it was a delight to hear from her and to hear a bit about her family.  
Amy has also been doing a crafting countdown to Christmas and has lots of really cool simple ideas on her site ... Had I been even vaguely fit, I'd have been trying more of them - as it is I think lights are going to be my limit.  

These delightful koala bears came all the way from Australia
for my first Christmas card of the season.

Happy Holidays 

In case I don't get a chance to post again over the holiday season, let me take the opportunity to wish each and every one of you a gentle, peaceful holiday season - it can be a lonely time for many people and for others it is a time of great devotion.   For me, it's the mid Winter season - the lull before the light starts to come back, the time to rest and reflect and to enjoy the pleasures of winter - cosy fires, the scent of pine trees and spices, soppy movies and time with friends and family.   
I cannot convey how much you all mean to me, those of you who read and comment on these ramblings of mine - I love hearing from my cyber penpals around the world.  

Some music

Let me leave you with some music - first a laugh - I just adore this little girl - I'm sure you've all seen her before but it's worth repeating ...

And finally a carol - in Irish and English 
Oiche Chuin, Silent Night
Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Eleanor Shanley, Geantraí Na Nollag TG4 2009

Happy Holidays.

Monday 7 November 2016

Some good news stories and songs

I've been finding it difficult to find my centre these past few months - lots of pressure coming from different angles aren't leaving me with much time for contemplation or creation, just for getting done the absolute necessities of each week.  Hence my absence from getting around to commenting on your lovely blogs or posting many of my own.
So we've taken ourselves off for a week to an artist retreat to concentrate on writing.  I'll have pictures next week.

Our world is so full of fear these days.  My thoughts go out particularly to all my American friends who have this very divisive election coming up tomorrow.  The politics of fear seems to be rife everywhere in the world at the minute.

So, not to add more to it, today I wanted to share with you some music and stories that have passed through the periphery of my vision over the past few days and have brought a smile or a tremor of joy.

Firstly this most wonderful rendition of Here Comes The Sun featuring James Taylor.  A lot of the comments to the video were castigating the changes made, but I adore it.

To my shame I didn't know who the dignitary was sitting beside Michelle Obama - so after a bit of research I found it was Yo Yo Ma, the Chinese American Cellist.   So here's a piece from him - the Prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 - this moves me to tears every time I hear it, and he plays it beautifully.

Lastly, there have been several posts on Facebook over the past few weeks, about the first person with Down's Syndrome to qualify as a pre school teacher - how absolutely wonderful.   This story comes from Argentina, and there's another one from Gaza - both young woman had so many adversities to overcome.   Surely a lesson for us all.

I hope your week is full of wonder and joy as the nights get darker and the days shorter up here in the Northern Hemisphere and as you pass into the season of sunshine and warmth down in the southern regions of this wonderful planet.

Thursday 3 November 2016

Rostrevor Folk Club

I'm delighted to be passing on the information that Rostrevor will have its very own folk club starting next Monday, 7th November - running initially fortnightly and then monthly in the new year.  

Crawfords Bar is a beautiful intimate venue, perfect for acoustic concerts. To make the evenings even more special, numbers will be limited, there will be no sound system and the bar will be open before, in the break, and after the performances.   Get up close and personal with some of the finest touring artists on the folk scene.  
The first artists are as follows:

Monday 7th November - Lisa Gutkin
Lisa"One hot fiddler!" - Cyndi Lauper; "Hauntingly emotional vocals"L.A. Times;  "Genius!" - Pete Seeger
Best known from The Klezmatics, LISA GUTKIN steps out on her own on "From Here On In," her first CD of six warm and wonderful songs featuring her vocals, fiddle, and tenor guitar. The Brooklyn native was a founding member of the downtown Celtic group Whirligig with Cillian Vallely (Lúnasa). Playing klezmer to Celtic, Appalachian to blues.
Tickets £10, available in advance or at the door from the Rostrevor Inn 028 417 39911.

Monday 21st November - Niamh Parsons and Graham Dunne
Niamh and Graham"Describing Niamh Parsons' singing is like to trying to describe color to a blind person." -Jamie O'Brien
Niamh Parsons has come to be known as one of the most distinctive voices in Irish music.  Dubliner Graham Dunne is a well-known guitarist in the Irish Traditional music scene. He is known for his sensitivity of touch as an accompanist, and his fiery ability as a soloist.  Together "neither Niamh nor Graham wastes a single note or nuance in their matchless renditions of predominantly traditional songs" Dave Kidman
Tickets £10 - early booking advised.  Phone 028 417 39911 or call in to book tickets

Monday 5th December - Avalon Quartet
AvalonA special pre Christmas folk club featuring the gorgeous traditional and classical sounds and songs of the Avalon quartet featuring the vocals and uilleann pipes of Brendan Monaghan.   Not to be missed. 
Tickets in advance £10  from The Rostrevor Inn, Bridge Street, Rostrevor - phone 028 417 39911.  

More details can be found on the Rostrevor Inn Facebook and

I'm so excited to see the quality of acts that are scheduled - in the new year you can look forward to Brian Willoughby, ex guitarist with the Strawbs with his wife Cathryn Craig and also to one of Ireland's top songwriters, Mick Hanly and many more to be announced shortly.  

See you there. 

Monday 31 October 2016

Celtic New Year

Beautiful journey through Co. Armagh
Such an unexpected pleasure having the extra hour in bed with the time change this weekend - I can never remember whether we gain or lose an hour when the clocks fall back, so it was nice to find we'd gained it.

Coming in to Ederney
This has been the most beautiful Autumn I can remember for a long time - the colours are just fabulous - last time I saw a prolonged colour like this was in New England.   But we've had dry crisp gorgeous weather and the leaves are hanging on and glowing.

On my journey west from Co. Down to Co. Fermanagh and back again the views just kept getting better and better.
Sunset over Lough Erne

Well it's Celtic New Year again.
I wrote about the traditions of Samhain here  but for this Halloween I thought I'd share this lovely Van Morrison song with you.   People either love or hate Van - I think he's a great creative force out of Belfast and always has a song for every occasion.

"If I don't see you through the week, I'll see you through the window" - a great local saying.   It's a bit like "pick your window, you're leaving!"

Blessings of the season to you.

Monday 24 October 2016


Rostrevor Community Choir has a new name ... Singmarra .... what do you think?

I suppose we could guess that it means Songs of the Sea, or Sing about the Sea - but actually it's just a play on words from a beautiful Aboriginal song called Lingmarra that Therese Virtue at the Boîte World Music Cafe in Melbourne taught me when I visited earlier this year.   Her choirs all sing it and it's a sort of non specific native language that means Welcome Everybody  

Rostrevor Community Choir has been going now in various guises for nearly 6 years and for most of that time I've been thinking "we should have a name!, we should have a name!"   So finally we have.

The artwork is an original painting by one of our members, Susan Farrell, who is also chair of the local art group.  I love the lightness of her paintings.  You can see more of her work here

We meet on Wednesday nights in Rostrevor, so if you happen to be in the area on holiday and fancy joining us for a sing for an evening, you'd be more than welcome.  Membership is closed now until after Christmas but we'll open it again for a few weeks to take on the New Year's Resolution singers.

Monday 17 October 2016

Bothy Knitters

Oh my, I was blown away by this.
Up in Portsoy we played in the Salmon Bothy and behind the stage area was this huge big painting, as I thought.   Until I got closer and realised it was a knitted painting.  Two of them.  

So just for you crafters out there here are a few pics ...

Firstly, the Harbour

And what would you find in a Harbour of a Salmon Bothy?
A salmon of course!

Have you been knitting anything unusual recently?
It's getting around to that time of the year isn't it.

Monday 10 October 2016

Last tour of the year - Around Scotland

Stirling Castle
It seems strange to realise our touring year is over - I have loads to do and projects to plan, but I kinda feel bereft not having any concerts to worry about or look froward to for several months.   How-and-so-ever, that's how the planning went for this year (note to self: don't let it fall this way again if possible) and it's quite fortuitous in a way as we have a new album in the planning stages plus uncertainty with family health matters and so on.  So I'll be coming up with various tricks to keep myself engaged and not get so far removed from it all that I start wondering what I'm doing!!

But we had a lovely time in Scotland.  It was great to catch up with friends and revisit clubs we've been to many times over the years and also take in a couple of new venues.   The weather turned almost overnight from Summer to Winter the day before we left so I ended up taking a suitcase full of unsuitable clothes but before we got home Autumn had arrived in all its glory.

We travelled almost the full length of the country this time, starting in the Borders where we hooked up with a wonderful textile artist friend Mirjam - the Borders are simply beautiful at all times of the year - rolling green fields and the classic Scottish granite buildings.

Then it was up to Fife to see some more friends in whose house we did a very enjoyable house concert and spent a day travelling around the Forth Bridges and St andrews and even got to see Minnie the Minx and Desperate Dan in Dundee - lovely city which I'd like to see more of.
The sails of the supports on the new Bridge
across the Firth of Forth
A mini  version of us set up by the lovely Ciara
before our house concert at her Gran's -
I wish all the instruments were this small :)

Minnie the Minx

Desperate Dan and Dawg
Not sure what he was advertising on his shirt
From there further north, first to Stonehaven and then on up to Portsoy an area we'd never been to before.   It is simply glorious up there.

Blue skies and blue sea - fabulous Sunday walk at Portsoy

The remains of the Salt House

Topping up the Vitamin D reserves

The Old 17th century harbour
Then back southwards again - to Stirling and then Glasgow and down the Ayrshire Coast home.
Someone recently was singing about Gold Bars in the Sun
 .... referring to these bales ... beautiful.
Ailsa Craig - next stop Ireland 

Every Scottish town has a signpost as you leave, saying "Haste Ye Back" - Aye indeed we will.   Can't wait to see you all again soon.

Monday 3 October 2016

Tree of the Year

The Holm Oak, Kilbroney Park, Rostrevor
Our tree is in the NI final of the Woodland's Trust's competition.  Fancy helping out by voting? Here's the tree's story...

Hi everyone
Isn’t it great! I’m a finalist in Tree of the Year Competition.
I have been chosen by the Woodland Trust as one of the six best trees in Northern Ireland, for this Europe wide competition.

Most of you know me - I’m the old leaning Holm Oak just in on the left at the Fairy Glen entrance to Kilbroney Park and I have been selected from numerous great trees in Northern Ireland for this big Tree of the Year competition.

The Woodland Trust heard that I’m loved by lots of people in Rostrevor and they think I now deserve to become Internationally famous.  

Over the years I have really enjoyed small children and their teachers from local schools talking under my evergreen leaves, as well as musicians playing during Fiddlers Green Festival. Many of you have hidden behind me on summer days or joined the laughter from family groups (or sheltered when it rains), You older ones have often climbed my strong back to swing from my bigger branches. I’ve even seen some of you holding hands and kissing, of an evening!

Now some of my great limbs have become very tired and heavy with age and it feels as if they might need a little bit of remedial help.

I want to win the N.I. final, as then there will be a £1,000 TLC grant for the local community to look after me. If I get 1,000 votes I only receive £500.

So I need as many votes as possible to win
Please get everyone you know over 18 to Vote:

Vote ONLY on the Woodland Trust Website until Sunday 9 October:

Thanks for voting
Your Holm Oak

Friday 30 September 2016

September Photo Hunt

Joining in today with Hawthorn's monthly scavenger hunt.   I love this challenge of putting pictures to her words.   Go and check out the link and play along if you fancy joining in and have a look at all the other wonderful photos from around the world.  

September  has been a crazy month - it's my birthday month which I love - we're on tour at the moment in Scotland and before that we had a load of gigs, plus my poor mum had time in hospital so we were on the road a lot, between visiting, working and caring.   Thankfully all's settling down now.  

So here's this month's mix and match of tenuous links :)

We're evicting spiders constantly at the minute - boy can they spin webs quickly
you get rid of them and five minutes later there's another cobweb somewhere
This one was outside the window - aren't they simply fabulous when the rain falls on them


This windmill looked like it had lost a blade, or was only half built
in the Borders of Scotland


I know this isn't what you traditionally think of as Filigree, 
but I couldn't take my eyes of the beautiful patterns in the Forth Bridge
To me, it looks like lace.

We played a gig early in September on the Tall Ship Soteria on Newry Canal
This was our view before setting sail
OK, another tenuous link - This is in the inside of the lighthouse lamp
at the smallest working lighthouse in the world in Queensferry
The smallest lighthouse in the world
Well, almost asleep, with one eye open.  
This was Mr Magoo - one of two beloved cats who have now passed
- his sister is in a picture below.
Probably the only thing that would make me stop touring is having another couple of fur babies 


Greencastle, Co. Down at low tide.
Hydrangeas drying to a beautiful vintage colour

Sheba, following Tom for a walk on the beach.  I can still feel her fur in my head ... Sigh ..
She and Magoo were left in a box at the doorstep of an office I was doing some temp work in
I took them home for the night and he stayed for 10 years and she for 13 years. 

The new bridge across the Firth of Forth to be called the Queensferry Bridge I think
Apparently somebody commented that it was a good idea
to leave  a gap to stop people driving on it before it opened!!
Seriously though, it looks like it defies gravity - 2 parts hanging in mid air.

With thanks to Hawthorn for organising the monthly Scavenger Hunt.  Great fun.   Off now to see everyone else's pics.

Monday 26 September 2016

The Last Days of Summer

It has been a beautiful week of sunshine - perfect for bringing my Mum home out of hospital.  It reminded me of this song I co-wrote at a songwriters workshop a while back with a lovely singer songwriter called Eugene Brosnan.
Tom caught the sun glinting on the water and it made a perfect match.

We're off to Scotland now (in the pouring rain) for a run of folk club concerts - it is always a pleasure to catch up with friends here and to play in these intimate little venues - the last tour for this year.   Thankfully my brother has come home to be with Mum for the time we're away and by the time we're back she should be back on her feet again.

And I've just realised this is my 300th blogpost - not all published mind you, but still an achievement.

Have a great week and enjoy the colours of Spring or Autumn whichever part of the world you're in.

Monday 19 September 2016

No rheumatism there.

I spotted this video coming up in a list underneath a video that one of my friends posted on Facebook - it really made me smile.  And as Strictly Come Dancing is back on our screens again it seems appropriate. As my father would have said "There's no rheumatism there!"

Have a great week with lots of energy and smiles.

Monday 12 September 2016

Learning new skills - go gently

Today I'm reminding myself to go gently.

I did a search for some music to go with this phrase and found this artist whom I'd never heard of before ... Suzanne Ciani - she's a synthesist ... I love the melody...


A friend called the other day to get help from my other half with her computer.  She was berating herself for not being able to do basic things on her new laptop,   I was trying to tell her that we all feel like that even if we're using the computer all the time but she wasn't hearing me to go easy and she'd get there.

Recently I've been working on arrangements for singing workshops and for my choir.  It's something I've avoided assiduously for years because the relevant software is sooooo slow to work with and on the face of it quite complicated.  And of course, having a go every 2 or 3 months isn't going to help the learning process.   By the time I get back to it, I've forgotten the little bits I did learn.

We live in a culture that demands instant gratification and that rewards speed and competence.  But what happens if we just slowed down and did a little bit everyday - eventually we get the desired result - a new skill or whatever.   And especially as we get older, or just have too much going on in our heads it gets harder and harder to learn everything quickly.

To paraphrase Homer Simpson - to learn something new, something old has to go out ... or something along those lines...
I love that idea, and it makes sense to me when I'm trying to learn more song words - something simply has to be forgotten to make room to remember something new.

So, deep breath and back to see if I can finally get to grips with this software.

Keep trying y'all and go gently.

Monday 5 September 2016

Around These Parts: The Janus Figure

The Janus Figure
Recently we took a visit to Caldragh Cemetery on the East end of the Boa island to see the famous Janus Figure.  The Boa Island is a 5mile long island on Lower Lough Erne in Co. Fermanagh, with bridges joining it to the mainland with the most wonderful views of the lough on both sides of the road at the bridges.   There are always birds on the water and fishermen out in their boats.  It's a fabulous drive and I love going that way when I head home to West Fermanagh.

Boa Island across the top of Lower Lough Erne
The Janus Figure dates back at least 2000 years and predates Christianity.  Although Janus is a Roman god and is associated with the month of January as he looks both ahead and behind, this figure, also facing both ways, is considered to be Celtic rather than Roman - the Romans never made it as far as Ireland. It's more likely that this was a statue to the goddess Banba after whom the Boa Island is named - one of three sister goddesses of ancient Ireland.  
In Irish mythology, Banba (modern spelling: Banbha, pronounced [ˈbˠanˠəvˠə]), daughter of Ernmas of the Tuatha Dé Danann, is a patron goddess of Ireland. She was part of an important triumvirate of patron goddesses, with her sisters, Ériu and Fódla.
This statue is considered to be male and female with the indent in the top thought to have been for antlers.   The markings down the side could have represented hair. 

The two faces
and the hands on the stone alongside
Tom leaving a coin in the indent between
the two heads for luck

In the 1980s a primary school project from schools in Belleek and Kesh at opposite ends of the Lough did a lot of research into the area and even though this site is only a few miles from my home, I can't imagine why we've never visited before.

The Celts, along with many other races of the time, believed that the soul resided in the head, hence the large head and eyes on the carvings.

There is a definite ancient feeling when you walk into the graveyard and the misty day on which we visited helped highlight the air of mystery from another time and space.

Looking from the side

A smaller figure was moved from a neighbouring island Lusty Mor in the early 20th century.   It is badly disfigured but you can still see the face there.
The second smaller figure - quite badly disfigured
with lots of offerings at his feet

The late great poet Seamus Heaney wrote the following lines about the Janus figure after a visit in 2006.

January God by Seamus Heaney
Then I found a two faced stone
On burial ground,
God-eyed, sex-mouthed, it's brain
A watery wound. 
In the wet gap of the year,
Daubed with fresh lake mud,
I faltered near his power ----
January God. 
Who broke the water, the hymen
With his great antlers ----
There reigned upon each ghost tine
His familiars,
The mothering earth, the stones
Taken by each wave,
The fleshy aftergrass, the bones
Subsoil in each grave. 

And then beside the two figures and the other stones lying around the field, there is the most wonderful fairy thorn.  The superstition is still very strong here to never cut a fairy thorn and this one has twisted into all sorts of ancient shapes.   There were some ribbons on the branches so obviously others think so too.
A fairy thorn protects the space

Spot the blue ribbon where someone has left an offering

There are only a few recent gravestones in the cemetery.   The theory is that the stones littered around the field would have been markers for burial sites and every family would have known where their spot was without the need of a big stone which would have been the preserve of only the wealthy.

very few modern gravestones in the cemetery

Lough Erne has 365 islands on it - so we were always told in school.   Mind you I heard that said of another lake somewhere recently, so perhaps it was just a convenient number to let us know there were LOTS of islands on the lake:)  

Some day soon I want to visit Devenish Island  which is another ancient island, but with more monastic connections rather than pre Christian.

There is more about the Janus Figure at this lovely wee site - Ireland's Hidden Gems